A Bronx Event Organized by New Museum Shut Down After Protest by Local Activists

Activist Tiara Torres at an anti-gentrification protest in the Bronx in March 2019 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A festival in the Bronx organized by the New Museum was canceled today, September 21, less than an hour after it started. IdeasCity Bronx, which was supposed to feature a series of discussion panels, artist talks, performances, and workshops was shut down after Bronx-based activists disrupted the event’s first session, held at Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River. A number of local Bronx nonprofits and grassroots organizations that were slated to participate in the festival announced their withdrawal before the events commenced.

The event started around 2:30pm with opening words by the festival’s curator V. Mitch McEwen. The activists interrupted McEwen’s address with a “mic-check” call but were handed a microphone to make their statements. Tiara Torres from the Bronx-based activist group Hydropunk was first to speak.

In her speech to the audience, Torres asked: “Why are we surprised that shortly after the MoMA hosts a rooftop party at Andrew Freedman Home, that another large, rich institution such as New Museum comes next?” Torres continued:

New Museum has never invested anything into the Bronx. This is a one-day event. They are not contributing any long term financial backing or support into any of the ideas that come from today. Half of these employees will never be back here until there’s a Yankee game.

Hydro Punk declined this offer, and refutes New Museum’s presence at this park because we understand what their presence does. Their name erases the work of Black and brown people who have died on this land, who rebuilt these buildings by themselves because the government and institutions left the Bronx to burn.

Artist and activist Shellyne Rodriguez from Take Back the Bronx attempted to deliver a second statement but was stopped by the event’s organizers, she later told Hyperallergic in a phone interview. In response, Rodriguez threw the microphone down to the floor and continued addressing the audience. Soon after, McEwen announced the cancellation of the event.

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic by email, the New Museum wrote:

IdeasCity worked in partnership with many Bronx cultural and community groups to develop the program, which consisted of presentations, workshops, performances, and talks. Over the past 48 hours, The Point CDC raised an objection about not being represented at IdeasCity, and some of the scheduled speakers withdrew their participation. Out of respect for those who raised further objections today, along with concern for the safety of the audience and participants at the event, the program of talks was cancelled.

Themed “New Ecologies 3755,” IdeaCity Bronx was planned to discuss the effects of climate change on communities in the Bronx. Hydropunk, Take Back the Bronx, No New Jails, DreamYard, and the Point CDC were some of the groups and NGOs that canceled their participation in the festival. Hydropunk was first to pull out about two months ago  after it found out that the event was being promoted by the real estate company South Bronx Luxury, the group told Hyperallergic.

“We find it completely inappropriate and disrespectful that this event … is taking place without the leadership of groups who have been historically leading the fight for climate and environmental justice in the South Bronx,” said the  Point, a South Bronx community development nonprofit, in a statement posted on social media. The Point was instrumental in the revitalization of Concrete Plant Park, an out-of-use concrete plant where the New Museum’s event was held. “Only one of the groups in our network ⁠— who was indirectly contacted by a third party ⁠— was made aware that this event was taking place,” the Point added in its statement.

Concrete Plant Park is located in the Southern Boulevard area in the Bronx, a neighborhood that local activists say is being threatened by gentrification-driven rezoning. “[The New Museum] hosted their event in the middle of the zoning area,” Rodriguez said. “They’re growing art communities that are markets and it’s in tandem with real-estate development.”

Participants of an IdeasCity panel entitled “A Starter Method to Deconstruct (Or At Least Examine the Intricacies of What Whiteness Actually Is),” also withdrew their participation in solidarity with DreamYard and the Point, according to statements published online by panelists Xaviera Simmons and Recess director Allison Freedman Weisberg.

After disrupting the festival, some of the activist groups held alternative activities at a community center nearby. “[The museum] didn’t put up a fight,” Torres told Hyperallergic, “the whole thing was over in 20 minutes.”

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